‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ is a common idiom but a rare stage direction. In Fevered Sleep’s dreamily unsettling performance poem, it’s pretty much the only stage direction, as actor Laura Cubitt leads Leuca, a doe-eyed whippet, to a comfy rug, which Leuca proceeds to doze upon for the next 45 minutes.
Beyond this moment of canine perambulation, ‘Above Me the Wide Blue Sky’ essentially consists of Cubitt poetically describing the English countryside and interactions between animals and man – a red kite attacking a woman, a slug caught in a mousetrap – before repeating much of what she has just said in the past tense.
That’s pretty much your lot, and what a difficult, haunting piece this is. The repetitive tone of David Harradine and Sam Butler’s text, combined with Hansjörg Schmidt’s twinkling floor lights, Will Duke’s dreamy sky projections, Jamie McCarthy and Charles Webber’s sighing string music and, of course, the actual slumbering hound all seems to amount to an invitation to nod off – one numerous members of the press night audience accepted.
And yet despite the slowest of starts, there is something implacably powerful about this show. Cubitt is engaging but never imposes herself on the text emotionally. Instead it’s left for the words and the visuals to blend into something beautiful – ravishingly unfamiliar words like ‘corn crake’ , ‘yellowhammer’, ‘marram grass’ – and finally unnerving, as the text switches to the past tense and the blue sky projections are blotted out by black clouds.
It is both a celebration of and a warning about man’s fragile relationship with nature – as made manifest in Leuca – but for all the show’s crepuscular power, the form is often trying. Andrzej Lukowski